Sussex County again supporting drug awareness campaign

GEORGETOWN — Delaware Goes Purple’s substance abuse awareness campaign has Sussex County’s support to help stem the tide in an overdose epidemic that on average is claiming about one Delawarean per day.

Peggy Geisler, Sussex County Health Coalition executive director, closed her presentation during Tuesday’s County Council session by saying the tragic epidemic of overdose deaths occurring in Delaware “is at about one person every 22 hours.”

Peggy Geisler

For the past two years, council has provided $5,000 to the awareness/prevention campaign, which began as Sussex Goes Purple and has since grown from a county-based initiative to a statewide effort each October.

Delaware Goes Purple is a monthlong program to raise awareness of the substantial challenges posed by substance abuse in the First State.

County Council is expected to act on the latest funding request, again for $5,000, once an application is formally submitted to the county for review by its Finance Department.

Sadly, Ms. Geisler said many battles are still being lost in the drug overdose epidemic.

“One would think that we might have really hit the needle in the head and really tried to do something about this epidemic from not only a statewide perspective but a national perspective, but what we need to tell you is that this has not gone down. It actually has been going up,” said Ms. Geisler. “Since the pandemic has occurred, we in Delaware have continued to rise. We are No. 2 still in the country and vastly approaching West Virginia for overdose deaths.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, yearly drug overdose mortality data shows West Virginia tops the list with 51.5 deaths per 100,000 total population, followed by Delaware at 43.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

“Also, just so you know, we (Delaware) are the No. 1 state nationally with growth trends around overdose deaths by 60%, where everybody else is about 30%. So this is really a critical issue,” Ms. Geisler said.

She added that one key effort is prevention.

“We are an awareness campaign. We actually try to drive people to help this year and other different services in the community. But we also blanket prevention, which is where we spent your dollars last year, when you were generous enough to give us $5,000 towards this initiative,” said Ms. Geisler. “We do that all year long by helping other organizations do prevention work. As you’ll know, the state budget does not put a lot of money nor does it put a lot of effort around prevention activities.”

Ms. Geisler made note of funding disparities.

“Our budget for this campaign statewide is $75,000, whereas other states spend over $6 million for their campaigns. We are a grassroots effort. This is citizens in your community, where it started, promoting this effort,” said Ms. Geisler. “Last year, we reached 150,000 people in the state on $75,000. I think that is pretty impactful.”

The Sussex/Delaware Goes Purple efforts have included Botvin LifeSkills Training, an evidence-based prevention approach targeting youth, which is proven to reduce substance use, aggression and violence.

“We are also doing an awareness campaign,” said Ms. Geisler. “Everybody knows we have an epidemic. But not everybody knows how you deal with it, where you go to get support, how to get help.”

This effort encompasses many spokes in the community wheel, she said.
“Everybody in the community takes a part in this. We actually put the campaign together. We promote the campaign. We send it out. But we let the communities direct a lot of it, and we help to fund some of it,” said Ms. Geisler. “We have all three major hospitals behind us. We are really proud of the fact that it’s a community-driven and community-led effort onboard.”

Some efforts have been tweaked due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We made sure this year, because of COVID, we set up a virtual toolkit all communities could push out,” said Ms. Geisler. “We have been working with many of our nonprofit partners on how they can do community-engaged reach with kids virtually, because not all were prepared to pivot. So we have helped with technical assistance on that.”

One initiative was a virtual pledge card that drew about 400 pledges, Ms. Geisler said.

“We want to work toward stopping substance abuse, stopping the stigma — people are afraid to come out and talk about it — and prevent loss of life,” she said. “With the idea that this is preventable, we want to provide hope for people, and we want them to know where they can go and get help.”

County Councilman Samuel Wilson Jr. questioned how the county’s money is spent, saying, “That’s what happens with cancer. The cancer (society) is collecting money from us, and 90% of it is going to employees.”

Ms. Geisler assured council members that is not occurring.

“Well, I can honestly tell you that this is not happening in this case. I can tell you that we probably spend about $100,000 on this campaign, and my organization takes a hit every year to make sure that this happens,” she said. “So we don’t raise enough to cover all the costs … including my staff time. That is actually donated time. Staff is being paid but not through anything that has to do with this money. That money is, 100%, going out to the children in this community, as you requested the last two years.”